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I have a complicated relationship with cult films. It should be clear what I’m talking about, but I mean films that didn’t do well at release, but gained a huge and dedicated following later in life, and are now considered fondly memorable films. It’s not that I don’t get the admiration or ironic love for films like The Room, Birdemic, and so on. I just don’t get the idea that these films should be celebrated. We don’t really do this with any other type of media. If the show is bad, we don’t watch it, and let it die after one season. If the food at a restaurant is bad, we don’t go back to that place. Why should movies like the ones mentioned above get praise and enjoyment out of watching them? I know I’m not speaking for everyone, and I do have my own guilty pleasures, but still have no urge to really own those guilty pleasures, or truly watch them. I would rather spend time, money, and praise on something that is amazing, and support it. For me, I would rather invest into cult classic films that are actually good, but maybe came out in the wrong place and the wrong time. Something like Cats Don’t Dance is a good example. Cats Don’t Dance was collaboration between Turner Feature Animation and Warner Bros. Family Entertainment. It was directed by Mark Dindal, and was released on March 26th, 1997. It was unfortunately a massive bomb, and while it got decent reviews, it didn’t help the film make back it’s small $32 mil budget. It only made $3.6 mil back, but then became a cult classic after it was released on video and was shown a lot on channels like Cartoon Network. So, how does the film hold up over time? Let’s get started!
The story revolves around a cat named Danny, voiced by Scott Bakula. He moves from his hometown to Hollywood to make it big as a star. Unfortunately for him, he finds it harder than he thinks. Thankfully, he ends up meeting a likable cast of characters, including a female cat named Sawyer, voiced by Jasmine Guy, a hippo named Tilly, voiced by Kathy Najimy, a cynical goat named Cranston, voiced by Hal Holbrook, a nervous turtle named T.W., voiced by the late Don Knotts, and a sarcastic fish named Frances Albacore, voiced by the late Betty Lou Gerson. Danny even lands his first role as a cat for a Noah’s Ark film starring a Shirley Temple parody named Darla Dimple, voiced by Ashley Peldon. Sadly, Hollywood decides to chew Danny up and spit him out on the very first day. Can he make it in Hollywood where it’s hard to be an animal starring in films? Can he avoid the menacing grasp of Darla Dimple?
So, what does this film do right? I mean, it flopped, shouldn’t be that hard to see why it didn’t do well, right? Well, like usual, sometimes bad movies rightfully flop or underperform, and good movies flop or underperform. This is one of those good movies that sadly didn’t do so well. Alright, what’s good about it? While the film can be corny, there is this huge sense of passion that I think floats around the entire film. For example, let’s talk about the commitment to the setting and style of film. It’s obvious to see the tone of the older Hollywood films that your grandparents and parents probably grew up on with the 30/50s Hollywood setup, the references to old-time actors, and the type of characters you would probably see at this point in time. I love the fact the villain is a Shirley Temple parody, since back then, she was one of the biggest stars around. She is so cynical, yet hilarious, since this is the comedic approach everyone should take for an evil child star character. She’s also very expressive, and probably the best part about the movie. She is a blast to watch, and what sets her over-the-top is her butler, Max, voiced by the director himself, Mark Dindal. The way they use Max is always gut-busting hilarious. The way they shoot the angles, the way they portray his giant stature, and how they play with this character is always going to bring out a laugh. That doesn’t mean everyone else doesn’t have good chemistry, because they do. This film has a very likable cast of characters, who work well off one another. While not the most defined characters, everyone has a good line, a joke, and a fun moment within the film. The film also has a subtle and not so subtle theme of discrimination, that honestly hits harder today than ever before. While Hollywood has always had really crummy casting decisions, and making it a challenge for non-white actors to get anything done in Hollywood, with the recent white-washing incidences, the discrimination theme in this film is way more current than just another “be yourself” plot point in any other animated film.
That same spirit can be seen in the animation as well. Everyone is expressive, vibrant, and it shows why Warner Bros. animation is really good. During this period in time, when Warner Bros. was trying to copy the Disney formula, their animation suffered. They were not good at mimicking the emotion of Disney’s animation at the time, and the only good parts to a Warner Bros.-animated film was when it was comedy. I mean, when you are the studio behind Animaniacs and Looney Toons, that should be child’s play. Thankfully, since they wanted to go more for those more “cartoony” live-action comedies from back in the day, the animation, since they have total control of their movements and sequences, can match that speed that they wanted to try and pull off back then. The voice cast is also pretty stellar. I was surprised to see Scott Bakula do such a good job, and to see him be a rather good singer. Everyone felt totally committed to their characters, and I was never taken out of the film by an actor obviously playing themselves.
If I had to complain about something major in the film, it’s the fact that Danny is not the most interesting character. He’s pretty much blank slate as a character. He’s not a horrible character, but like the female lead, you know how his story arc is going to go. While I also enjoyed the rest of the cast, they didn’t have much to them either. The only ones to feel fully fleshed-out were Woolie and Darla Dimple. I think the film could have also been longer. It’s a comfy 70 minutes, and everything moves at a good pace, but I think they could have slowed it down a little more to expand on the characters. The film probably could have used a few more mil in the budget, because while the animation is great, you can tell at small points in the film where they are just standing still because they couldn’t animate them.
While the film does have its issues, and we are never going to get nor should we get a sequel or a remake, I enjoyed Cats Don’t Dance. It’s one of the few cult classic films I don’t mind watching from time to time. They recently rereleased this film in widescreen in the Warner Bros. Archive Collection. This is a fun film to watch, and I think anyone can get into it. Well, I love talking about fun cult films that are good for all ages, but next time, we shall look at a film that’s more adult, and while flawed, has my respect with Anomalisa. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you next time.
Rating: Go See It!